It all started overseas.
After having a successful basketball career at University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, where he graduated in 2016, T-John Casiello landed a position with the Sport Changes Life-Rory McIlroy Foundation in Northern Ireland, training and developing young hoops players.
The 2012 Wildwood Catholic High School (now Academy) graduate would run camps and clinics, conduct individual sessions and coach teams, in addition to playing professionally with the LYIT Donegal of the Ireland National League and studying for his master’s degree at Letterkenny Institute of Technology in Ireland.
Casiello also coached and trained athletes in Spain in 2017 when competing with the CB Estudiantes in Spain’s National Division.
Those experiences allowed him to develop a strong passion for mentoring and improving athletes at every level, which led to his own developmental program, Casiello Basketball based in Cape May County.
“I love the game, and I feel like I have the knowledge. I’ve been around the world, I’ve seen basketball at all different levels and in all different countries,” said Casiello, 26, of Wildwood Crest. “I had great, great coaches, so it’s my opportunity and my turn to pass that knowledge back on.”
Casiello trains about 850-plus athletes of all ages, with a majority from Cape May and Atlantic counties. He runs private training sessions and group workouts and conducts a summer camp, which draws athletes from Pennsylvania and New York.
The camps are usually held in different locations during the summer, including Cape May, Wildwood and Wildwood Crest. Casiello plans to have additional camps this summer in Avalon and Sea Isle City.
Casiello is training different players almost 12 hours a day. But he enjoys every minute of it, preaching to his players that basketball can do many positive things.
“I feel like I have so much to give back to the game,” Casiello said while looking at a basketball during a break Saturday afternoon. “It has given me so much. This little ball here has given me so much. It has brought me around the world and introduced me to so many amazing people.”
Casiello added the pandemic has taught him his sessions are more than developing skills on the court but also a way for kids to enhance social and communication skills. Casiello heard from many parents that his program helped players escape the recent problems in the world.
“In this situation, basketball is saving kids from depression,” Casiello said.
Casiello plans to start a league in the coming weeks for the middle school-aged players who are in his program. Many middle schools canceled their basketball seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have an unbelievable basketball culture down here,” said Casiello, who noted he is following all the CDC guidelines to ensure the players’ safety. “I think there is so much more we can do. I am trying to bring new life to basketball and actually put an emphasis on developing the players.”
Wildwood Catholic coach Dave DeWeese, who coached Casiello, called him an outstanding person and intelligent entrepreneur, having assisted with the program even after graduating high school and using his love of the sport to start a successful business.
“T-John has endeared many young players in the area to his style and personality and really has done a great job working with them and improving their basketball skill, knowledge and their passion for basketball,” DeWeese said.
“His passion for the sport is very contagious, it comes right out of him as soon as you are around him, and that passion has, obviously, flowed over to many of these young boys and girls who work with him on a regular basis.”
DeWeese noticed Casiello had the presence and qualities of a coach when the standout played point guard for the Crusaders, calling his former player “my coach on the floor.”
Casiello was a 1,000-point scorer for his career at Wildwood Catholic.
“Down here, in very southern South Jersey, there aren’t very many opportunities for kids to have somebody like him to work with them and to improve their game,” DeWeese said. “He has filled a big void down here by providing that to all the youth of Cape May County. He takes them all under his wing and does a great job training and mentoring them.”
The summer camps and group sessions are mainly for the younger athletes (kindergarten to eighth grade), and high school and older typically have private sessions, such as Wildwood Catholic graduate and Bowling Green State junior Caleb Fields and former Philadelphia 76ers guard Nik Stauskas.
The Princeton men’s basketball team even trained with him in September. Jordan Robertson, who played basketball with Casiello at Wildwood Catholic, helps with the training program.
“I want to show people that I’m not coaching, I’m training,” Casiello said. “There is a difference. ... I hope they will reflect on this as a great experience and maybe one day pass that knowledge on.”